Ecuador: 5/07 – 5/13

Quilotoa >>> Chugchilan >>> Isinlivi >>> Guayquil >>> Puerto Lopez >>> Salinas

5/7 – Explore Quilotoa Crater Lake
5/8 – Hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilan
5/9 – Hike from Chugchilan to Isinlivi
5/10 – Transport from Isinlivi back to Latacunga and then on to Guayquil
5/11 – Driving to the Coast and Arriving in Puerto Lopez
5/12 – Isla de la Plata: the Poor Man’s Galapagos
5/13 – Travel Down the Coast to Salinas

Explore Quilotoa Crater Lake
+ Slept in a little longer than we had wanted to in Latacunga, but we needed our rest for the upcoming days!
+ Checked out of the room, put our large backpacks into storage in the hostel, then ate our breakfast cereal in the kitchen.
+ Said goodbye for now to the very friendly hostel staff and then caught a taxi to the bus station. There, after some confusion, we found the spot to wait for the bus to go to Quilotoa.
+ We ended up waiting about 50 minutes and while standing there we met a nice girl from France named Manon. She was volunteering in Baños for a couple of months, but would spend that day hiking down to the Quilotoa Laguna like us.
+ After our 2 hour bus ride we arrived in Quilotoa, checked into Alpaka Hostel, and dropped our bags. Then we set off to walk through the town.
+ Only a few minutes later after climbing a small hill, we were surprised to find ourselves staring down at the gorgeous crater lake! We hadn’t expected to stumble upon it so soon. It was completely surrounded by mountains in a bowl-like shape with very pretty emerald green/blue water.
+ We all couldn’t resist hiking down right then, so we set off down the deceptively long path to the waters edge. Along the way we stopped many times to take pictures although they never did the actual view justice.
+ 40 minutes later when we reached the bottom we walked around a little and took more pictures then decided we should pull ourselves away to begin the hike back up. They had donkeys you could rent to go back up, but we decided to save $30 collectively and just walk.
+ Although we made it up in just over an hour, we wish we had brought food and water on our hike since we were now thirsty and starving.
+ We only had an hour until dinner (included with the hostel room) but we wanted food now so we decided to split a pizza. Turns out that the local people in Quilotoa like to move very slowly and by the time the pizza was ready we only had about 20 minutes til dinner time. So we forced ourselves to only eat a slice and then saved the rest for lunch on our hike the next day.
+ Dinner turned out to be delicious, and AYCE! So while we sat around the table close to the fire, we got to meet some med students from the U.S. who were down in Ecuador for a few months studying and helping in various medical clinics. We all ended up talking for a few hours until one by one everybody called it a night.
+ Being the night owls we are, we were the last ones awake and sat around watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Corey’s phone before bed.
+ Although the fire had gone out in our room by the time we went to bed, the room stayed surprisingly warm the whole night and our bed and pillows were very comfortable! One of the most comfortable beds we’ve stayed in our whole trip!

Hike from Quilotoa to Chugchilan
+ Had to force ourselves to get out of the warm cozy bed for breakfast at 7:30.
+ Talked with everyone for a little bit before it was time to gear up for our long hike. Packed our bags and said our goodbyes then set off for our 11.6 km hike.
+ The hike started by going halfway around the beautiful lake along the mountain tops and then descended down through very pretty fields of wildflowers. The views of the distant mountains, valleys, and rivers were awe inspiring at every turn. They were impressive from every angle!
+ About halfway through the hike we passed through a small town and then stopped to eat our lunch at a lookout overlooking a canyon. Here, we got a look at the very step descent (and following ascent) we would have to complete to reach the other side of the canyon. At least we had fuel for the energy we’d need coming up!
+ By the time we made it to the Cloud Forest hostel in Chugchilan, it was just under 5 hours of hiking and we’d seen countless sheep, cows, donkeys, chickens, pigs, dogs, and even a few llamas! It was only about 1:30 in the afternoon and we had the rest of the day to hang out! And to our surprise, the hostel had wifi!
+ So the next few hours were spent showering, lounging in the hammocks, talking to family/friends over wifi, and surfing the web before dinner.
+ Turns out only 1 other couple was staying at this giant hostel and so during dinner we talked to them about their life in France and travels through Latin America.
+ Afterwards we decided to hang out in the game room and had the staff light a fire in the furnace. Then we relaxed while watching Kimmy Schmit before going back to our room to get in our warm bed (also one of the most comfortable we’ve had during our travels!).

Hike from Chugchilan to Isinlivi
+ Woke up less groggy than yesterday and excited for the last leg of our hike. Had a hearty breakfast with the French couple and then we started on our way.
+ These hostels along the Quilotoa Loop are a great value because your accommodation includes a piping hot dinner and a hearty breakfast to get you fueled up for your day of hiking.
+ After only 5-10 minutes walking, we stopped at another more upscale hostal in town that boasted the world’s highest frisbee/disc golf course! So we got some frisbees and discs and started playing.
+ It only took until hole 1 to realize the course is not well kept and grass is never mowed. After stepping in numerous muddy holes and getting covered with hundreds of stickers, Liz decided 1 hole was enough and went back to the reception area. Corey kept playing all he could without a map (only found 6 out of 9 holes).
+ On the 3rd hole, he had to throw his frisbee over a fence towards the basket and when he went through the gate he encountered a bunch of curious/aggressive llamas (or alpacas, who knows)! He couldn’t figure out if they were more interested in him or the frisbee, but either way he didn’t want to get bit/spit on/headbutted or have his frisbee stolen. So after hiding behind the frisbee basket to keep an object between them, he made a sprint for the other gate to get out of the field with the llamas close behind. He made it through the gate but then discovered the gate did not fully close or lock. And now the 2 original llamas were joined by 4 more. Across the field there was another gate so he started running for that one but as soon as he left the gate the llamas pushed through and started coming after him again. In this field, there were also 2 aggressive barking dogs that ran up to him. So now he had to avoid all the animals and make it back out, and he managed to make it through a different gate into another field that didn’t have any animals. Hooray! Then he finished the remaining frisbee golf holes he could find and returned to the club house where Liz was.
+ Then we began our actual hike towards our next destination of Isnilivi. This hike ended up taking about 4.5 hours and went through many impressive landscapes. We went through a valley with a tiny town and picturesque church and stopped at a little stand that was selling drinks and snacks for your hike. We grabbed a coke while Liz looked at the twin baby cows hanging out nearby (only 10 days old!).
+ The last 1.5 hours of the hike were uphill the entire time but we got to walk on some plateaus that were thousands of feet above the valley. Overall it was definitely one of the prettiest hikes we’ve ever done with the friendliest locals and most picturesque farm animals.
+ We managed to arrive at Llullu Llama Hostel about 30 minutes before the rain started! The same thing happened yesterday with about an hour to spare, so we were happy we had beat the rain and the afternoon fog/clouds both days.
+ After our showers we took advantage of the hostel happy hour to reward ourselves for completing the Quilotoa Loop. Corey drank some beers while Liz ordered a bottle of Chilean wine (her first wine of the entire trip!)
+ We had dinner with everyone (about 15 people at the hostel, way more than all the others) and met some other long term travelers, including an Australian couple that had already been traveling for 14 months! We all exchanged stories and travel advice for a while before some people headed off to bed.
+ We stayed up and played cards (Shithead) with a few people near the fire for about an hour and Liz even won a game! Then we watched some more Aqua Teen Hunger Force before sleep.

Transport from Isinlivi back to Latacunga and then on to Guayquil
+ Although this hostel was supposed to be the best (and was the most expensive on the loop), the bed was the least comfortable and our room backed up to the dorm so it was noisy early in the morning.
+ We got as much sleep as possible and had a nice filling breakfast in the morning with everyone before departing.
+ Getting back to Latacunga turned out to be quite an adventure. We left Llullu Llama and waited in the town center for a milk truck to pass by where we could hitch a ride to the larger town of Sigchos. While we were waiting, 2 local women walked by us. The older woman was carrying a large and obviously heavy sack of what we assumed were crops of some sort. Corey asked of she needed help and she happily said yes and set down the large bag. Corey picked up the bag (basically a dirty canvas sack) and followed the woman a little down the road. They made small talk as they walked and Corey was unsure exactly how far they were going.
+ After walking a few minutes further, the woman stopped and took the bag back from Corey and proceeded to heave it off the side of the road into the beautiful green canyon below. Confused, Corey asked what was in the bag. The woman responded it was just a bag of garbage!! Lolol this whole time Corey thought he was helping her carry food for her family or maybe for her animals and it turned out she was just disposing of her trash.
Liz wished she had her camera because it was quite the sight to see Corey walking back into town next to this old woman no more than half his height!
+ After waiting for almost an hour, the milk truck finally arrived in Isinlivi. We rode in the back of the truck (standing up and attempting to hold on to the 2 giant barrels of fresh milk as we bounced along) for an hour to the next town of Sigchos which was supposed to have frequent buses to Latacunga. Turns out we missed the bus by 15 minutes and the next one wasn’t leaving for 4 hours! Who makes these schedules?! So after being told there were camionetas (shuttle buses) we might be able to get, we walked to the edge of town where they’d be leaving from and waited on the side of the road. Eventually other people showed up and one guy called his friend to take us in his truck taxi and we’d split the cost. We hesitantly agreed (but what choice did we have?) and rode with the people towards Latacunga. The guy did drive like a speed demon though so what would’ve taken 2 hours in a bus only took an hour. He dropped us all off at a town close to Latacunga.
+ Then we hopped on a bus labeled Latacunga (and also verified with the driver) only to find out 5 minutes into the ride it wasn’t going to Latacunga, but would stop on the highway 15 minutes outside Latacunga. Great. So we got off that and eventually rode into town in the back of a covered utility truck that was driven by a friend of a lady who also got off the bus with us. Then we had to walk to the bus station and take a taxi to the hostel! Finally, after 5 different modes of transportation, we’d made it back to our hostel!
+ After repacking our bags and evaluating our options for buses, we decided we’d have to go through Guayaquil to get to Puerto López instead of our original route directly to the coast (since the earthquake a month earlier closed down some roads). Since we decided to take the overnight bus, we weren’t leaving until almost midnight so we spent the rest of the day hanging out at the hostel and even took a nap! We also grabbed some delicious Chinese food from a local restaurant in town.
+ Around 11:20pm we left the hostel and got a taxi to the bus terminal. Then we settled in for our 6.5 hour ride to Guayaquil starting at midnight.

Driving to the Coast and Arriving in Puerto López
+ After watching Need for Speed (in Spanish of course) on the bus, we managed to go to sleep and actually slept pretty heavily after tossing for the first hour or two.
+ Before we knew it we were at Guayaquil’s humongous bus terminal and after stumbling around looking tired and lost for 10 minutes, we found a company going to Puerto López that was leaving in about 5 minutes! So we had to force ourselves to ignore all the delicious looking restaurants (including American fast food chains) and even skip the bathroom just to make it to the bus on time.
+ The bus ride to Puerto López was pretty and went through some jungle areas. After around 4 hours we arrived at the terminal just outside of town and were immediately met by different tour operators before we even had our bags. After listening to their sales pitch (and escaping without a commitment, I mean come on, we’re practically pros at this point!) we caught a tuk tuk to our hostel.
+ Trying to stay on budget we opted for 2 dorm beds instead of a private and the dorm room was actually pretty nice with A/C and a tv. Plus, as it turned out we were the only ones there, so it was like a private after all!
+ Knowing that we were interested in tours, our hostel lady called a tour operator she knew and by the time we had even dropped our bags in the room, the guy was there to give us his big presentation on all the different tours. And to make things even more awkward, the guy from the bus terminal was standing outside to talk to us again (and try to ensure we went with him). Corey jokingly asked if they were Amigos and both sternly said no and looked disgusted.
+ During the whole 30 minute sales pitch (in Spanish, of which we understood probably 2/3) the other guy stood 20 feet away watching us. When the one we were talking with finally left, we had to talk to the other one again and ensure him we were still thinking over our decision and hadn’t ruled him out.
+ Then at lunch we had to talk amongst ourselves and determine which mean things each guy had said about the other were true and who was more trustworthy. We ended up going with the one the hostel recommended and booked the tour after lunch at a tipico restaurant we’d found.
+ During the early afternoon we did some work on the tablets inside our room trying to escape the heat, then after a short nap we headed down to the beach and watched sunset with some happy hour beers.
+ It’s the first time we’d watched the sunset on a pacific coast beach since Costa Rica! And this harbour happened to look exactly like San Juan Del Sur with all the boats and surrounding cliffs.
+ Finding a restaurant for dinner proved to be quite the tough task since every place we went was either closed or ridiculously expensive. It turns out this town is extremely popular when it’s the high season and lots of tourists (and rich Ecuadorians) come here for whale-watching. But in the low/slow season everyone just closes up shop and apparently the restaurants would rather have no customers instead of lowering their prices, since so many of the expensive ones were practically empty.
+ Not wanting to spend 1/3 of our daily budget just on dinner, we opted for $1/slice pizza on the street. And it was pretty dang good! So we ate that in the room and spent the rest of the night talking to family/friends, researching our upcoming border crossing, and mapping out our next destinations.
+ Then Liz passed out while Corey watched some Dragon Ball Super episodes before doing the same.

Isla de la Plata: the Poor Man’s Galapagos
+ In the morning we had our free breakfast downstairs in the pretty garden area next to the pool and talked about all the dogs and cats that wandered by as they reminded us of Tumbles and how much we miss him.
+ Then it was time for our replacement for skipping the Galapagos: Poor Man’s Galapagos! It’s actually called Isla de la Plata but that is the nickname it goes by since many backpackers on a budget tend to come here instead of paying thousands of dollars for the real thing. With limited time and money, we chose to wait until the future when we could do the Galapagos properly.
+ So our $30/person tour included the hour boat ride out to the island, a 2 hour hiking tour, lunch, a half hour of snorkeling around the island and then the return boat ride. While this island did have Blue and Red footed boobies (though we only saw the blue), red throated frigate birds, Nazca boobies, and sea turtles, it did not have any sea lions, Iguanas, penguins or giant tortoises like the Galapagos has. And even though the hike was brutally hot (being so close to the equator and practically no shade), we really enjoyed the trip and especially the snorkeling time. Fish and sea life in the Pacific is so different from the Atlantic and it’s only our third time ever snorkeling/diving the Pacific waters!
+ Back on dry land we eventually walked off our sea legs and said goodbye to our new friends as we returned to the hostel and our (for now) still private dorm room! After some showers we grabbed some cheap pizza slices again. Then we spent a while talking to family members back home.
+ Still hungry, we got some street food: hamburgers and a fried chicken/french fry combo which was delicious! Then we booked our hotel and finalized our 2 day bus route coming up into Peru before heading off to bed.

Travel down the coast to Salinas
+ With so much family stuff on our mind, we didn’t get great sleep and woke up feeling agitated. After breakfast we packed up and checked out of the room.
+ Then Liz stayed behind to do some work (about getting some items shipped to Panama) while Corey went north a little to Las Frailes Beach (a nearby famous destination and rated one of the most scenic beaches in Ecuador!). After a tuk tuk and short bus ride, he signed into the park and had a 45 minute walk down the dirt road to the beach.
+ Normally there are tuk tuks waiting at the entrance to overcharge tourists for the ride (which mostly gladly except to avoid the hot dry walk), but Corey had no such luck. But to cut down on time and make it back to Liz, he jogged most of the way and made it there in only 17 minutes! Then he walked around and explored the main beach and the bordering, rocky tide pools. After that was a hike up to the top of a cliff that provided some amazing views of the coast line. It looked a lot like California! Then Corey hiked the rest of the 4 Mile trail back to the entrance. Along the way there were 2 more beaches and a lot more great views. But it was excruciating hot and dry with lots of cacti and cliffs along the way. Overall it was a cool hike and had there been more time, he would have loved to take a dip in the clear blue water.
+ Once Corey arrived back at the hostel, we packed up our bags, grabbed some snacks for the road and caught the first coastal bus south. The plan was to stop in a popular surf town called Montañita along the way for a quick bite to eat, but knowing how far we needed to get to afterwards we chose to just keep on riding through down towards our final destination of Salinas.
+ After changing buses in Santa Elena, we opted for the 30 cent city bus to Salinas over a cab. While it did save money, it took forever and we didn’t arrive to our hostel, Chaqana Lodge, until after sunset. With hunger striking hard, we set off to look for dinner.
+ Although our original choice we searched for were closed, we found a fun restaurant crawling with ex-pats called Fiddlers Green. We hesitantly checked the menu expecting the prices to be ridiculous but they were actually pretty cheap! So we grabbed seats and ordered some new beers we hadn’t tried before, including a delicious IPA that was on tap!
+ Then we chatted with some of the rich older white people and found a couple that had moved here from Winter Park! Small world.
+ After our food came, we saw they had a spicy food challenge. Corey decided to come back and try it the next night. Our food was tasty though so we were happy to have our first decent meal in almost 24 hours (especially Corey since he doesn’t eat eggs so his breakfasts are usually quite small).
+ After strolling along the boardwalk lining the yacht-filed harbour, we went back to the hostel. We were definitely in the richest part of South America that we’d visited so far
+ Then we watched tv and checked email before bed.

Click here for more photos from Ecuador!

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